The attitudes of the Western media and governments vis-à-vis events in Egypt has led many Egyptians to question whether or not the West was well-informed of what really took place in Egypt. Egyptians just couldn’t imagine that anyone who was familiar with what went on in Egypt since 25 January 2011 , and especially since 30 June 2013, could make the blunder of condemning Egyptians for the overthrow of the Islamist regime at the head of which sat the Muslim Brother (MB) Muhammad Mursi as president.
Suddenly, Egyptians woke up to the fact that perhaps it was their fault the world did not understand them. Maybe they did a poor job of explaining themselves to the world at large. But it’s never too late; Egyptians hastily took up the task of addressing the world in order to make clear the arguments that led to the Egyptian revolution on 30 June and the ouster of Mursi and the Islamists on 3 July.
Speaking the same language
Many political movements and public figures made the attemp to inform the West. But despite the huge, faithful efforts, they did not all work.
It was not a matter of writing the Egyptian viewpoint in English, French, or some international language. The problem was much bigger; it involved translating your culture into a culture that could be understood and grasped by other people in the world. This was the real challenge, and it was fraught with pitfalls.
The first pitfall was, predictably, the language itself. It was not sufficient to put an Arabic document on Google Translate to have it in English, say. But that’s rudimentary for anyone who ever dabbled with translation. The point is not simply to have some English words or sentences stringed together; you may manage to do that but still produce a script that makes no sense. It takes a good translator for a document to be relayed in another language, and for it to make sense to the reader. And good translators are hard to come by in Egypt today.
Second, was to read why the West was so adamant about Egyptians throwing democracy to the wind, while Egyptians saw they were doing the exact opposite. And third was, once you grasped where the misinformation or misunderstanding stemmed, you’d go ahead and address it.
Watani International (WI), through its print and online versions, prides itself in doing just that. It has targeted the Western reader with stories on When a coup is not a coup WI 14 Jul; What is at stake, WI 4 Aug; Who’s hacking Egypt? and “Set Egypt on Fire” WI 28 Jul; Double standards by any other name WI 18 Aug; What have the Islamists done to Egypt? WI 25 Aug; What’s a democracy without checks and balances? WI 1 Sep; Egypt, too, has a dream 8 Sep; and The terror to come? WI 15 Sep.
Other successful attempts at reaching out to the West included efforts by Saad Eddin Ibrahim, head of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, and a delegation of Egyptian public figures at soft diplomacy with Europe. An Egyptian delegation which counted among its members Muhammad Salmawi, head of the Egyptian Writers’ Union; and Naguib Sawiris the prominent Coptic tycoon; tackled matters in Egypt with a delegation from the European Union. Dr Ibrahim specifically stressed that constitutions the world over include texts that allow for withdrawal of confidence from an elected president in case of abuse of power. With such texts lacking in Egypt’s constitution, Egyptians voted with their feet; they took to the streets.
“The meeting bore fruit,” Mr Ibrahim says. “The EU mellowed on Egypt.” We invited them to come to Egypt to assess matters on the ground and, later, to monitor the parliamentary and presidential elections.”
Saeed Lawandi, who is an expert in international and political relations at al-Ahram, believes we need more conferences to inform the West of what really goes on in Egypt. He cites as examples the successful conference late last July at which the spokesman for the Egyptian presidency, Mustafa Hegazi, spoke. Again, he says, there are the conferences and diplomatic efforts of Egypt’s Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, who is a seasoned diplomat, and the conference held at the National Council of Women.
All the help we can get
Hany Ramsis, a member of the Coptic youth movement, the Maspero Youth Union, said that when addressing the West, we need to spell out how the ousted president Mursi worked to disable democracy during his year-long rule. “We need all the help we can get,” Mr Ramsis says, “from the Egyptians who work in Egyptian embassies, since they enjoy a high level of political, cultural and liguistic know-how which qualifies them best to address the communities they live among.”
According to Ramsis, the MB have had strong ties with the US for over the past ten years, a fact which has served the MB well in US support for their fascist rule in Egypt. Today, he says, the Egyptian State needs expert PR effort to take Egypt’s message effectively to the whole world, to counter the MB exploitation of the media.
We should recognise that peoples are not always in agreement with their governments. If we manage to relay our message to the public in the free world, we would have gone a long way towards making ourselves understood and gaining credibility with the world.
18 September 2013